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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH                      25

nunciation, which was full of traps for the uninitiated. As Ouyang
Shiu, and Su Tungpo himself later^ lay and listened to their sons'
recitation, so Su Shun lay now on the couch listening to the musical
flow of his sons' voices, his eyes fixed on the ceiling, approximately in
the state of mind of a hunter who had shot his last arrow and missed
the deer, and it was as if he was refashioning new arrows and sending
forth his sons to shoot that deer yet. Something in the boys' eyes and
their voices, as their tongues rolled so smoothly over the syllables of the
classics, told him that they would succeed, and his hope recovered and
his wounded pride was healed. The probability is that the adolescent
brothers had already outstripped their father, from exact memory of
history to excellence of penmanship. One of Su Tungpo's disciples later
said that Su Shim had a greater natural talent but that Su Tungpo was
the more profound scholar. The father had not yet given up all
ambition for an official career, but he would have been an idiot had he
not already grasped the certainty that his two sons would pass the
examinations tho.ugh he had failed. This is not said in any disparage-
ment of the father? for we know that he guided his two sons in the
direction of purity of style and of a serious concern with history and
government, through the study of the laws of rago^perity and decay of
a period.                                                      v£*v)

It was lucky for Su Tungpo that his fatherteCS always stood for
simplicity of style in contrast to the precious, ornate manner prevalent
at that time; for when later the young scholar went up to the capital to
take the examinations, the minister of education and chief examiner,
Ouyang Shiu, had determined to start a reform of the literary vogue
by failing all candidates who indulged in pedantic nonsense. This
pedantic style may be described as a continual piling up of abstruse
phrases and obscure allusions in order to "beautify" one's composition.
It would be difficult to find one simple natural line in such composi-
tions. The great fear was that things should be called by their right
names and a line might be left unadorned. Su Tungpo described such
pathetic writing as "building up each sentence by itself and using each
word by itself * without reference to the total effectólike the opulent
jewels worn on an old lady's arms and neck at an opera premigre.

The home atmosphere seemed just right for the growing up of an
adolescent with a strong literary bent. The library was stacked with
books of all kinds. The grandfather now was a different person; on
the merit of his second son's having become an inspector in the finance
ministry, the old man had also received an official rank, that of
"counsellor" at an imperial court of justice. Such ranks were purely
honorary, their chief merit being that of enabling an official to refer
to his father as "the Counsellor" or "the Commodore", although he
might never have seen a court or a ship in his life. It seemed at times